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Decluttering 101

To Declutter, or Not to Declutter, That Is the Question

People assume I have my sh*t together. I thought that too, until my brain turned to Jell-O with my first pregnancy. Pre-family, I accomplished a lot. I was a go-getter.

After my daughter was born I thought there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t keep it all together…the house, my job performance, my relationship with my husband, let alone my sanity. It took me a long time to realize that it was easier to manage my mess for all those years I lived alone. When the piles overwhelmed me, I’d simply dedicate a weekend to declutter. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago. I didn’t even own a car. Compared to now, life was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The Need for Control

What I didn’t realize, was that I needed to feel in control of everything in order to be productive…in my work, my personal space, even my connection to those around me. I had the freedom to leave my job and go home if I had an off day. I could silently skip out of a party at my friend’s house if I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t have to answer the phone, or the door for that matter. I only had to answer to my dog.

All that changes when you have children. You gave birth to people who rely on you, FOR EVERYTHING. You HAVE to show up, every single day. I wasn’t ready for that. Is anyone? I felt lost. I had no one to show me the way. I had no one to show me that it’s okay to feel out of control. Because in reality, NO ONE is in control. Doesn’t that make you feel better? Makes me feel better.

However, you can control something…you can control the way you react to your environment and to what’s going on in the world. You can control the way you respond to your family. You can control the way you respect yourself.

Fast forward to unknowingly driving away from my single life in Chicago, in my loaded-up Hyundai, to California, meeting my husband, giving birth to our first baby a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean…packing it all up again and driving from California to Florida, buying our first home, and welcoming our second child a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. 

Even with the purge that comes before two cross country moves, it’s EASY to collect stuff…when you have kids. It’s a fact. It happens so fast. Especially with all the other moms and “parenting experts” out there telling you that you MUST have this stroller and that high chair and this type of bike and those shoes and on and on and on and on…

ENOUGH is ENOUGH! Stop the buying insanity.

Something brought you to this blog post. Maybe you’ve heard of minimalism but never knew what it meant. Maybe you’ve read about this decluttering trend on the internet.

I can share with you my experience so far, as well as offer insight into what works and doesn’t work for me as I continue on this journey. I’m not on the other side of it, by any stretch. I’m diving in and not looking back. I don’t ever expect to reach the end. Decluttering and minimalism is a lifestyle, not a fad diet.

Modified Minimalism for Real Life

In my last blog post, I introduced the concept of Modified Minimalism. The purists out there will probably hate me, but that’s okay. Strict minimalism doesn’t work for me. I cannot be bound to rotating through six outfits for each member of my family. Would I like to be able to shut my overstuffed drawers completely? Of course. Do I want my pre-teen to freak out when I forget to wash her favorite shirt that she insisted on wearing to school today? No, thank you.

There is a happy medium. (And she’s not telling fortunes).

Do I wish I could wave my magic wand and make all the mess disappear? Yes! Do I wish I could look into a crystal ball and predict when my house will feel peaceful again? Absolutely!

I believe in decluttering. Decluttering my space, clears my mind and my soul. It greatly affects my relationship with each of my beautiful family members. This I know to be true. But decluttering takes effort. It takes physical and emotional work.

I have followed decluttering YouTubers for months and have devoured their advice. I even enrolled in a decluttering course, which was fantastic, and I highly recommend doing this for the support group alone. I successfully reorganized our shoe storage at the front and back doors, AND decluttered half of my office/loft space!

However, when I turn around, I still see all the stuff I piled on the other half of my office. That was last September. Good grief, it’s been seven months. The pile is still there.

I mention how much work is involved because I really had no idea. I only saw the end result in my mind.

I felt like I had jumped on an emotional roller coaster when I embarked on my first attempt to declutter. No one told me how hard it would be.

Don’t let the realism of decluttering stop you from the dream.

Let me share three of problem areas I discovered when I started to declutter:

  1. Getting started. It can be overwhelming and somewhat deflating to get ramped up to declutter, then look around you and think, “Oh, sh*t.” Like anything I dread doing, it’s a matter of making a plan, setting a timer, playing some awesome music, and diving in. Just do it…dammit! I’ll discuss WHERE to start in the next post.
  2. What to do with all the miscellaneous stuff that might be useful? Empty shoe boxes and plastic storage bins that aren’t being used, mystery pieces that got separated from some toy or tool, etc. I hang on to these things knowing if I could just get the stuff decluttered, there would be a use for it!
  3. Anything connected to an emotional memory. That is the worst for me. I went through an angry declutter purge in my twenties. I woke up one night in a panic, realizing I had thrown out all the old notes that I’d passed back and forth to friends from junior high and high school. I still think of this occasionally and it hits me in the gut. I would love to get those back. Do I need them? No. Will my quality of life suffer without them? Of course not. No use living in the past. It’s illogical, but still hard for me to let go of memory triggers like that.

Decluttering as Therapy

It can be very satisfying to clear out a space for so many reasons. When digging through my stuff, I get easily triggered and re-live past events, to the point that I feel the emotion – good, bad or otherwise. Once I’ve processed it, then I move on. It’s like having my own private therapist, for free!

In life, I have a tendency to go all in or all out. I go BIG…or I don’t go at all.

I’ve got to face that head-on and claim that it’s okay to take things in baby steps. This part of my blog will be about tackling the clutter, one step at a time and not get frustrated with myself or feel like a failure. Because that’s what I feel like every time I walk downstairs and look at this photo.

My actual living room!

I encourage my kids to create. I believe in giving children opportunities to use their hands and voices to explore, learn and grow. Therefore, I am going to work on the next steps and invite you to join me to create a sane, safe and peaceful environment, conducive to free movement and inspired action. I want my family to thrive. I want yours to thrive too.

An organized life is a creative life.

Less clutter gives your brain and body space to breathe. The openness of a room gives you space to think more clearly, come up with innovative ideas, and the freedom to create your brains out. Even small spaces can feel comfortable and peaceful if they are not crammed floor to ceiling with stuff.

I need to work on my daughter’s room. I think she could feel more calm and able to focus if her room looked less like this…

And more like this…

Look at those two photos. Can you feel your body tightening up when you look at the first photo, compared to the total release when you look at the second? I don’t know about you, but when I look at clean, beautifully appointed, organized rooms, my body is flooded with endorphins. It just feels good. And feeling good makes my brain work more effectively.

Why Declutter?

Let’s take a huge step back. Ask yourself this very important question:

Why do YOU want to declutter?

  • Using free-form, stream of consciousness type of writing, make a list of reasons.
  • Don’t edit or censor your thoughts. No one will see this but you.
  • Fill up a page or a whole notebook. There are no rules. This is for you.
  • Write about what you feel like now in your home, in each room.
  • Consider what life will be like after you declutter?
  • What would life look like if you didn’t do anything at all?
  • What will you feel like if the room that stresses you out the most could transform into a haven? Dream big.
  • How would an open, decluttered home affect your sense of self?
  • How could living in a decluttered home affect your health?
  • How would it affect your relationships with family members? To neighbors? To friends?
  • What more could you accomplish living in a decluttered space?

Decluttered / Minimal Living is Ongoing

It’s very important for you to also understand that decluttering and living with less is an ongoing process. Once you get through a room and open it up, you’ll probably go shopping (or in times like these, open Amazon in your browser) and have the urge to fill that space.

DON’T DO IT. Resist the urge to buy. Tie a piece of colored yarn around your pinkie finger if you have to as a reminder.

This is what happened to me after my first attempt to declutter. I wanted to buy all new furniture and storage cabinets, even before I got started. The problem here is you won’t know what you need until you get through decluttering. Save your money. You’ll thank me later.

Once you have written as much as you can on your Why Declutter list, you might discover that decluttering is not your thing. And that’s okay. I thought I could just CLEAN & ORGANIZE occasionally throughout the year and that would do it. I used to be able to do that, in my single days, but that won’t work for me anymore. Things need to change. I need to HAVE LESS STUFF. Period.

And that means…I need to change.

Purge and Release

I have gone through four periods of my life where I left everything behind and started over. Life was fresh, clean and a blank page open to new inspiration and opportunities. Literally, I needed furniture. Once, I slept on the floor of a new apartment for a month because until some kind soul donated a bed.

This Do-Over happened twice in my 20s and twice in my 30s. I miss that feeling. The freedom of not looking back, going with the flow. Once you have kids, all that changes. But it doesn’t have to.

I need another purge, but this time, it’s for real. It’s long-term. I invite you to join me. Like the sister I never had.

If you’re in, I have a plan. We’ll begin in Part 3 of this Declutter series. 🌷

The Geek's Wife

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